Photo of Crying Single Mum Shows Harsh Reality of Healthcare in China

A photo that is currently going viral on Chinese social media shows a crying mother in Shanghai kneeling down by her toddler son on the sidewalk.

The text accompanying the photo says:

On Shanghai Beiyuan Street, a single mother kneels on the street in the cold wind. She buries her head in her child’s arms and quietly sobs. The 3-year-old son suffers from hydrocephalus [“water on the brain”], and they previously came to Shanghai to seek medical treatment because he had an infection. After using up all their money, they were forced to leave the hospital. The helpless mother just sat on the street, feeling sorry for her child.

The photo received thousands of comments on Weibo today, with many people offering to help the mother out. “It hurts to see this,” some said: “She wants to be able to help her son, but she does not have the resources.”

Many Chinese face major obstacles in getting access to the healthcare they need. Under China’s current medical system, it is not easy for people from rural areas to gain access to medical facilities in the major cities, as they are not covered there and will have to pay for medical care themselves.

The issue is related to China’s hukou (household registration) system: government-subsidized rural medical insurance is often not valid in a different province, which means that villagers who fall seriously ill are not covered when they travel to first-tier cities for medical care.

So-called ticket scalpers (票贩子) take advantage of the system and people’s eagerness to see a doctor by using local identification cards to book appointments and then selling them to people without the proper documentation.

As for the crying single mother; this is not the first time these photos make their rounds around Chinese social media. The scene was captured on camera approximately four months ago, in early December of 2017.

It is not uncommon for the same story or photos to go viral again or to keep circulating on Weibo, similar to viral news stories on Twitter or Facebook.

According to Phoenix News, the mother is the 45-year-old Guo Yinzhen (郭银珍), who is a single parent since she divorced from her estranged husband some years ago. Her son’s name is Guo Zhenghan (郭政焓), and they come from a village in Datian county, Sanming, in Fujian – some 830 kilometers from Shanghai.

The photos were reportedly taken on December 1, 2017, when a reporter joined some volunteers to pay a visit to the Shanghai’s Children’s Hospital and came across the crying mother and then asked her about her story.

Photos from Sina.com

Guo Zhenghan was born in November of 2014 and has congenital hydrocephalus, meaning he already had it at birth. From 2014 to 2016, the child underwent three surgeries, but his condition deteriorated in May of 2017. Since November 2017 alone, the child was admitted to the hospital four times because of a potentially fatal bacterial complication.

Having used up all her money and still needing some 100,000s yuan (more than $15,000) for further treatments, Guo Yinzhen had no choice but to leave the hospital again, which is when she helplessly sat down on the street with her son.

In March 2018, Sina News also reported about this story, saying that Guo Yinzhen is a laid-off factory worker who has not been able to work since the birth of her child. Her parents are farmers who make a living by plucking tea leaves.

Sina also writes that the family has already spent 400,000 yuan (±US $63,000) on medical expenses, and still owe around US $47,000 in debts.

“I just feel so bad for the mother,” many people on Weibo respond.

“Since this is [the state of] medical treatments in Chinese society, parents have to make sure they can afford the medical costs if their child falls ill,” another person comments: “It is the best to purchase a commercial insurance. They’re not cheap, but even if costly, they need to buy it.”

In search of how Guo and her son are now doing, we found a buried Weibo post dated December 12, which only received four comments, in which a netizen writes:

On December 1, the crying single mother kneeling in the cold by her son has received ample attention. On December 5, with the help of the Xiaoxingxin Foundation, single parent Guo Yinzhen was able to bring her child Guo Zhenghan to Shanghai again for medical treatment, where the notable pediatric neurosurgeon Bao Nan operated the child. Thank you for all your care.

The update was also confirmed by the Xiaoxingxin Foundation with a post on Weibo (@小星欣公益), which also said that according to the doctor, the infection had gone and that the brain development of the boy was “looking good.”

“Why can’t we set up a system in which children will always be able to receive complete basic healthcare?” one netizen wondered.

On March 15, China Central Television reported that future reforms in China’s healthcare system will make healthcare more accessible and affordable, especially for rural communities – it does not say on what term these changes will be realized.

By Manya Koetse

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